Let’s get writing!

In August I will attend the Writers Digest conference in New York City. I am very excited because it is the first time that I will actually be present to experience the physicality (and intangibles) of what goes on at these conferences.

There was a time in my life when I was an events planner with a great deal of responsibility, not too much in the way of experience and having access to only a small budget. I lived in a small town and the local Chamber of Tourism responsible for putting on events had few members who were willing or had the know-how to put together a worth-attending affair. I was brought up in New York City which meant that at the very least I knew what a good event should look like and take into account.

I never felt like we did a great job but the people of the town (not being used to anything spectacular) were always happy with the activities and gave us lots of praise. Deep in my heart I have always accepted that people will accept anything, however mediocre, if it means they can turn up, spend a few hours, spend a few dollars, and then go home. As long as no one is asking you to stick around and clean up, or to volunteer to distribute pamphlets or set up tables and chairs which will later have to be put away, all is good. Once volunteers are needed, or donors are asked to contribute financially, there is less enthusiasm to put on something. It is a bit disheartening, I admit, but somehow some of us continue to try to make life in a small town a bit more lively. That would be me, despite all the disappointments I have had.

In one of my recent spurts of energy, I decided to tackle a mountain of files that had been carefully piled up on a side table in my office. I set aside a few hours for the project, knowing that even a whole week of doing nothing else would not make me achieve my goal. I had decided I would not devote too much time to each individual document but that I would skim the topic, decide if it has to be kept or can be discarded and turn to the next document in the file. It is easier thought than done. Document after document contained some pertinent reason for continuing in the file and in my life…after a few unsuccessful attempts to discard a page or two, I decided to give up the project for the time being and instead spent time delving more deeply into one of the folders.

What I found in that folder was simply amazing. Apparently a decade ago I was doing some introspective work and answered questions and made some commitments (to myself). I ended the exercise with a note not to open the file again until the end of December 2008…yes 2008! Who knows what was gong on for me at the time (life I suppose) but I completely forgot about the file, the notes, the exercise! I was astonished to read what I wrote more than a decade ago, to see what was important and to renew what my goals at the time had been. I am even more amazed to note that many of the goals and desires of the time continue to be with me today.

One of my goals back in 2008 was to learn a new language…well, I am learning to play guitar, that’s kind of a language, right? Devote more time to writing…I think I’ve got that covered although I am still finding ways to procrastinate the actual novel writing and focusing on character development. Lose some weight…back at it, in fact still at it might be a more accurate description, maybe this year! But overall, I was happy to note that the almost merciless self-inventory is as accurate today as it was then. That overall my values and ethics are still intact and that my most glorious moments (time spent with my then young children) have continued to be that way even these eleven years later.

I was glad to find those documents, they serve as a sort of compass of my personality’s endurance. My goal of getting rid of documentation has actually resulted in more documentation being produced as I am newly engaged in visiting the events that prompted that self-inventory and writing about them. It’s all good though.

One of the items on that rather extensive list of things I wanted to do was to just spend time enjoying life rather than trying to make every second of every day be about something meaningful. I am happy to say that these days, I am perfectly comfortable sitting in a chair gazing at nothing in particular or just observing the flight of a raven on a clear day. It is a great feeling.

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Romance writing at its best!

I belong to a tiny writers group in my little town in Costa Rica. We have been together for about 18 months and have traveled internationally once. Although we have all been published somewhere (in my case, I have 10 years worth of an online local newsletter, many many blogs, some publications in newspapers, etc.) our goal is to have and share important breakthroughs in our work, hopefully the result of encouragement and sharing in our group.

My ambition to be a writer started when I was pretty young. I credit the power of the newspaper in getting my parents’ attention as the main inspiration for embarking on that path. When I saw the hours they spent perusing the paper, I knew that reading and writing were very worthwhile pursuits. My parents never interrupted or bothered us with chores when they saw that we were reading.

I began reading Historical Regency Romance authors like Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland when I was in my early teens. I also devoured Corin Tellado, Spain’s answer to authors like the former, because I desperately wanted to improve my written and spoken Spanish. One common protagonist-type in most of these stories was the handsome yet sulky “prince Charming” who would always be duped into believing he was saving his damsel even though she had been smart enough to know how to hook him from the start. It isn’t until now that I realize how much I actually bought into that fantasy and always found “difficult” men so much more attractive than the “regular” guy I would seek today if I had to live my (love) life over. Fortunately, I have a good life partner and don’t need to be out there looking for love!

As the days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years, I see that my writing output is large but it is so spread out in my many blogs that I keep failing in my desire to write a really entertaining and engaging novel. I am hopeful, however, that those days are almost behind me. I am preparing to attend the Writers Digest Conference in New York at the end of August. I will be joined in that adventure by a friend who has published a proper book and who is also a lot of fun. Together we will navigate this writing adventure, I know we can both learn a lot from it and from each other. Until then, I will keep writing and sharing in my group and keep an open mind and open ears about everything worth reading and writing.

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Why do you write?

In a former time, I used to freelance as a translator and personal assistant to expats who needed help getting through the residency process in Costa Rica. My fees were modest and I had excellent recommendations which guaranteed that I would be busy for most of the year. One extremely high-maintenance client, who actually came to me by word of mouth (rather than through a lawyer) finally made me throw in the towel but I still occasionally help personal friends who need to renew their residency cards.

Yesterday was one such day. My friend’s situation is very straight-forward, the documentary requirements for her renewal are easy to meet and we had a very competent and friendly employee helping us with the transaction. Afterwards we went for a lovely lunch where we talked about everything under the sun but came back often to the subject of writing, a passion which we both share. We formed a small writers group about a year ago and although our growth and output is modest, I feel that it has helped all 6 of us in the group improve our writing or at the very least, lose some of our self-consciousness about letting others critique our work.

I asked my friend why she writes. I don’t know what I expected but her answer surprised me because it was on the tip of her tongue as if she has been thinking about it for a while. Her ambitions are not lofty.  She confessed that she dreams someone will find many publishing-worthy manuscripts in her home after she passes; that they will publish them and make sure that the proceeds of these works find their way to her son.

My mind cogitated on this reply for a little while I thought about an answer to my own question. The best I could come up with was that I wasn’t so much interested in becoming rich but in being read, although the money aspect is not really something to ignore. I am still thinking about the words of another of our members, a poet, who believes there is no room for the poet and the poetry. I strongly disagree with that sentence, feeling that there is almost no separation between the writer and the material written. I think that is the reason I don’t give myself license to write about anything even remotely controversial. I fear that perhaps someone will come upon my writing without knowing it is mine and yet be able to identify it as mine. I have six blogs. I write in all of them at least once a month, in one of them several times in a month. They are all on different subjects but I think my style is the same in all…I can’t say for sure though and I know that it is not what I want. I want to be able to write from different POV and have them feel authentic. I am sorry that I never went for the debate team, I think that would have been tremendous practice in listening to the deeply buried ramifications of thought in me.

Our outing was a wonderful chance not only to talk to a fellow writer but also to sit in a beautiful county so close to the one we live in and yet worlds away with all its modernization and culture.

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Small Town Fires!

I was born in San José Costa Rica in 1955. Our whole country back then was a “small” town although to a little girl, it was the whole world. When my family moved to Brooklyn, New York less than a decade later, I was shocked to discover cars everywhere, cement everywhere, and people, just thousands and thousands of humans and that was just in our neighborhood. Absent everywhere was all the greenery, but we did live close to Prospect Park in its majestic splendor year round, and we were frequent visitors.

Time passed and decades later, I found myself bringing my husband and small children to Atenas, Costa Rica, a lovely, paradisiacal, perfectly placed county for travel anywhere in the country. Its popularity has expanded to reach corners of the world and citizens that make the move and enliven our town with their different customs and languages. Sometimes I wish I still belonged to the tourism board because it has tremendous potential to reach out to newcomers which I don’t think it is capitalizing on. But I digress.

New residents are ubiquitous and after spending almost 20 years here, I can sometimes guess (correctly) which of the new arrivals will have the stamina to live in a town that (like many small towns) is also a hotbed of ever-present intrigue and scandal. Just yesterday, I heard three or four conversations that were laden with juicy gossip! All before lunch!

Although I love my little town and use a lot of information as background for some of my writing, I cannot shake the disappointment in my fellow humans. While some of us are holed up, researching or writing for desperately needed income, others are quite busy backstabbing and doing some character assassination, often about people they are friends with or live in close proximity to. Heaven help me if I ever go down that road to hell.

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A Lovely Gesture of Kindness

I write what I hope is an uplifting, inspirational newsletter to my on-line community every Sunday. It has a pretty general structure of four paragraphs and although years ago I was writing close to 1000 words per essay, I noticed that a lot of people were not reading because, even though I tried to make it entertaining, it was just too long. So I shortened it and find that the more condensed version actually takes me longer to write because I need to find the exact word for what I want to express. It is not an easy task but I have been getting more engagement. Here is a recent, edited example:

I have been spending a lot of time in the public hospital system accompanying my father to his appointments.   The public hospitals’  installations are decrepit, the atmosphere is gloomy, the wait is long and the conversations range from complicated medical terminology to the latest developments in our national soccer or politics.  I usually have my book or newspaper to pass the time, but this is one place where people watching is more entertaining and educational.

At the conclusion of my father’s last visit, it was determined that he needed to have an operation. Prior to the operation, he needed to have some tests which included giving blood samples.  As we waited in the room for him to be called, he asked if I would get him a bottle of water, assuring me that he felt fine and did not mind waiting alone for a few minutes until I returned. He was called to the tiny cubicle as I was making my way out to purchase the water.  I caught a glimpse of a young pregnant woman helping him take off his jacket.  I chided myself silently that I hadn’t thought to do it myself but proceeded to get the water so that I could be back before he was done.  I rushed to the nearest vendor and came back quickly but my father was already back in the waiting area when I returned.

I offered him the water and asked how he was feeling.  He told me about the young woman who had helped him with his jacket.  He had mistaken her for an employee until he realized that she had blood taken from her immediately after he had.  As he sat waiting, the small cotton ball they had given him to stop the flow of blood was completely soaked.  She noticed this detail and asked for more cotton and adhesive tape to secure it.  Then she helped him with his jacket and seeing him safely seated, she left.  All this was done before I returned, which was less than five minutes.

I didn’t have a chance to thank this future mother for her kindness to my father.  I spent a few minutes wondering what aspect of my father’s condition prompted this benevolence from a stranger.  We left the area and headed to a different place where we had another long wait ahead of us.  The room was full of senior citizens with a wide assortment of ‘conditions’, many were there alone.  I felt shrouded in charity after our recent experience with a kind stranger.  While I waited for my father to complete his errand,  I administered whatever help was at my disposal (getting a chair, answering a question, making small talk).  When I reviewed my day before I went to sleep, I felt the overwhelming sensation of peace that comes from living a good day.

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A Scrumptious Secret!

Every Tuesday is half-price day for senior citizens at the giant marketplace in the small town of Wizen. The profusion of white-haired customers can be seen from afar. Youngsters wisely stay away to avoid being mowed down by the daring octogenarians on their motorized shopping carts. They drive those with the same recklessness they display on the roads. The marketplace is buzzing with activity on Tuesdays. The owners are proud of their reputation for taking care of the growing population of senior citizens in Wizen. The free publicity is a by-product that they never expected when they began to cater to this age group. Their profits are growing and they celebrate the win/win situation.

Emmalou, our protagonist, is 73. She still feels young and dresses a bit seductively on Tuesdays. It is the only day she has any energy at all for going out. Every other day finds her inspecting her closet for the outfit she will wear the following Tuesday. Emmalou thinks she has a secret admirer. In fact, it is she who secretly admires a young man in the marketplace, the stock clerk who is working two jobs to pay off his family’s debt while nurturing fantasies of creating his own music studio. Unfortunately for him, his schedule and lack of seniority at work do not allow him to consider applying for a loan until the debt is paid off. It depresses him to think that by that time, he might himself be shopping on discount Tuesdays.

Emmalou’s heart flutters whenever she even thinks about him. She catches her breath when she bumps into him in the aisles as he is stocking the shelves. His demeanor is always pleasant. His face is so handsome she could stare at him all day long. He is the first person she looks for when she enters the store. She is convinced he pays special attention to her as he escorts her from aisle to aisle checking off the items on her list. Emmalou has never asked his name and now that several years have passed, she feels too embarrassed to do so. She knows she cannot ask anyone about him because her secret would be exposed. She doesn’t worry for herself. She knows there must be a powerful reason he continues to work there as a simple stock boy and doesn’t want to jeopardize his job.

Although Emmalou wonders about his situation she is happy whatever it is, it has kept him a part of her life all these years. She looks forward to Tuesdays at the marketplace, the fluttering in her stomach is a welcome change after a week of nothingness. She knows she might be a full 40 years older than her young man, but that’s how it goes. When she was a professional, some of her patrons were a full 40 years older than she! She blushes at the memory, her heart constricted imagining his reaction if he knew the permissive past that had allowed her to purchase, renovate and furnish the apartment she owns just blocks away from the marketplace.

The stairs that led to her cozy apartment seemed harder to climb that Tuesday. She felt a sharp pain in one of her legs as she reached the top step but she took a deep breath and bravely forced herself to walk slowly without putting down the shopping bags she was carrying. Her fingers searched inside the pocket of her skirt for her keys. She opened the door and stood still for a moment before losing consciousness at the threshold.

When Emmalou opened her eyes she did not know where she was. The long-lasting ceiling stain she was familiar with from the upstairs flooding all those years ago was absent. She found herself alone in a small room with a needle in her arm and an oxygen mask covering her nose. She tried not to panic when she found she could not remember anything. Her voice was weak when she tried to speak. It took a while before she understood that she was in a hospital. She forced herself to remain calm but made frantic gestures when a nurse approached her bed to look at the numbers on the modern monitors above the bed. The nurse smiled but remained silent as she went about her routine. She patted Emmalou’s hand and told her that the doctor would visit her shortly. Emmalou waited until the nurse left before she succumbed to the tears she had held back.  She allowed herself to cry for a moment, unsure what it was she was crying about. Then she must have dozed off because it was dark when she was conscious again.

The doctor’s voice was soothing. Emmalou opened her eyes and focused on him to understand what he was saying. A sudden drop in her blood pressure caused the fainting. When she fell, her head hit the side of a can of fruit cocktail inside her shopping bag. She rolled down the stairs and broke her right leg. She confirmed this when she saw the cast. He had no explanation for what has caused the week-long coma. Her neighbors were very concerned, he said. A different friend visited every day. Although her test results came back normal she would need some physical therapy once the cast was removed. He expected she would make a full recovery.

All Emmalou could think about after this exchange was whether the stockboy noticed her absence on Tuesday. She felt silly but the spark of joy in her heart at the thought of him made her feel more alive than ever. Her eyelids grew heavy and she surrendered to a deep sleep that accompanied a serene dream of picnics in the park with her beloved. When she woke up, her dinner tray was on her table. She ate every bite with renewed energy. The nurse informed her that she would not be allowed to return to her apartment until the cast came off because it was too dangerous. She also could not remain in the hospital because they needed the bed. Besides, who wants to stay in an environment filled with germs and bad food, the nurse kidded.

Emmalou was grateful she had allowed her agent to talk her into expensive, additional insurance that would cover her extended stay at a nearby aftercare facility until she could return home. She was actually looking forward to the pampering she knew one of her friends had received after undergoing reconstructive surgery not long ago. The doctor told her the physical therapy she would need could be undertaken at the same facility. Emmalou was thrilled about it and looked forward to getting back to Tuesdays at the market eventually. She reasoned that the time away from her secret love would make him grow fonder by the day. She smiled at her own foolishness but was privately amused by her wild imagination and saw no harm in letting her mind nurture “blissful thoughts”!

The days passed slowly but the weeks seemed to go quickly. Emmalou was assigned a physical therapist to assist her in regaining her ability to walk. She was looking forward to getting started although part of her anticipated the progress would be slow and painful. When her therapist arrived, she could hardly believe her eyes. She knew the face in an instant. It was the same handsome stock boy from the Tuesday marketplace. Their eyes locked for a moment giving way to what would appear a synchronized intoxication to anyone passing by. Their magical spell was broken by the manager of the facility when she made the introductions. Emmalou finally learned the name of her admirer, or more accurately, of the one she admired. His name was Lorenzo. She detected a slight accent which almost made her swoon. She tried to concentrate on his words but she was unable to think straight and fell into his arms when she tried to take her first steps. She was mortified. But he smiled with genuine warmth as he said “Miss Emmalou, you need to regain your strength so we can see each other on Tuesdays, like before.”

Lorenzo’s full story would unfold in due course. She smiled at the memory of his visit and promised herself she would do all the exercises he assigned her so she could get back to her old routine. She never slept better than that night.

 

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